My band played a private Abba tribute gig for Putin

MAD tyrant Vladimir Putin once hired an Abba tribute act to play a private concert for him and his cronies – and was dad-dancing to ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’.

Putin was reportedly seen having the time of his life as he cried out “Bravo” during the private performance by the band Bjorn Again in his private compound.

Vladimir Putin hired an Abba tribute band to play a private concert for him

Vladimir Putin hired an Abba tribute band to play a private concert for himCredit: AP

Bjorn Again played the gig for Putin and eight of his cronies

Bjorn Again played the gig for Putin and eight of his croniesCredit: Rod Stephen

Bjorn Again's Rod Stephen with Agnetha Faltskog from Abba

Bjorn Again’s Rod Stephen with Agnetha Faltskog from AbbaCredit: bjornagain

His favourite song was reportedly the Swedish pop giants’ 1979 hit ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’.

Speaking to The Sun Online, Bjorn Again founder Rod Stephen said he later got in trouble with the Kremlin after telling reporters about the private performance.

“It was a small theatre with Putin, seven or eight guys in suits, and one “glamourous” woman in an evening gown, we couldn’t figure out who she was,” he said.

Although he can’t be certain, Rod suspects that the woman “may have been” Putin’s mistress at the time, Alina Kabaeva.

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The former Russian Olympic champion gymnast was alleged to have got engaged to the Russian leader in 2008, while he was still married to his first wife, Lyudmila Shkrebneva.

After making arrangements with an agent in Russia, the group flew out to Moscow on a British Airways flight, before driving through the snow 250-mile distance to Putin’s private compound on the shores of Lake Valdai on January 21, 2009.

The massive site, occupying 100 hectares of a private peninsula, has its own personal theatre connected to the Dacha.

Rod was performing at some other shows and couldn’t play himself, but helped the band do their soundcheck before the performance, and was able to look around.

Inside the private theatre, the band was struck by the strange setup for the performance.

“At the front of the stage there was a thin veil, so it wasn’t quite so obvious it was Putin in the audience, even though we had been hired to perform for him,” Rod added.

He said once the music started, Putin seemed to shed his cool, icy demeanour as he got into the show.

“At the show, he was dancing around the place yelling ‘Bravo’, he really enjoyed it,” Rod said.

“He was standing there and then he started dancing around during ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’. It seemed to be his favourite Abba song.”

It comes as…

The image of Putin that Rod paints appears a world away from the increasingly paranoid, raging despot that has been seen since the recent Ukraine conflict.

It comes as rumours swirl that Putin will be deposed in a coup any week soon following the botched invasion which has seen Russia lose more than 16,000 troops.

Last week, body language expert Allan Pease told The Sun Online how he taught Putin how to present himself in 1991 when the ex-KGB man wanted to present a more “Western” image.

He claimed that Putin’s mental and physical deterioration in recent months could explain his unhinged actions in Ukraine.

Despite Putin appearing to let his hair down during the show, there was no chance for the band to meet their host after the performance.

Rod said there was “heavy, heavy security” around Putin’s dacha, with armed guards wielding AK-47s.

The band were kept in an area where security guards could keep an eye on them.

At one point, there was a tense situation after the soundcheck when one of the band slipped past security and went for a wander in the compound’s garden.

Suddenly, a heavily-armed guard ran up to him, shouting in broken English for him to go back inside.

Rod said the band finished their performance, got on their tour bus, and left, not thinking much more of it.

However, a week or so later during an interview, he told a reporter who asked what they had been up to recently that they had performed a private show for Vladimir Putin.

“It created a media storm, everything went a bit nuts,” he said.

“He was standing there and then he started dancing around during ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’

Rod StephenFounder, Bjorn Again

Speaking about Alina, Rod added that “there was speculation that Putin was having an affair at the time. He divorced Lyudmila a few years later in 2014”.

He went on: “This may have been another reason why the Kremlin wanted to keep the show quiet.

“If he was having an affair it wouldn’t have looked good politically.”

Kabaeva was first linked to Putin, 69, in 2008 when it was reported by a Moscow newspaper run by media tycoon and former KGB spy Alexander Lebedev.

Dubbed “Russia’s First Mistress”, Kabaeva has gone on the record to deny she is the Russian president’s partner, but it has not stopped rumours that the pair are engaged, married and even have a secret family together.

In 2017, rumours started that Kabaeva was pregnant when she attended a girls’ gymnastics competition in Moscow wearing a loose-fitting red dress – which appeared to be hiding a bump.

A Russian newspaper then reported that the pair were engaged – but the story was denied and the paper was shut down by Kremlin authorities.

Stories that the couple had multiple children persisted after they were pictured together, forcing Kabaeva to finally deny having ever given birth.

Rod first received a phone call in late 2008 from a man who said he was “from the Kremlin”.

They wanted him and the band to play a private show for Vladimir Putin and a select few. The fee would be £20k, and all of their flights and expenses were covered.

At the time, Rod, who founded the Abba tribute band in his native Melbourne in 1988, didn’t feel the request was that unusual.

They have played gigs for a number of politicians and famous people, and once opened for Nirvana at Reading Festival.

Despite the heavy security around the compound, they were able to get out of Russia without too many issues.

But following his interview, the mood of the Russian government towards him changed dramatically.

“I got a call from someone at the Kremlin, telling me off, warning me that this was a ‘private event’ and that I shouldn’t be talking about it to anyone,” he said.

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! was reportedly Vlad's favourite song

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! was reportedly Vlad’s favourite songCredit: AFP

Rod believes the woman may have been Putin's mistress Alina Kabayeva

Rod believes the woman may have been Putin’s mistress Alina KabayevaCredit: Getty

The party took place at Putin's secret palace near Lake Valdai

The party took place at Putin’s secret palace near Lake ValdaiCredit: Navalny website

The Kremlin was unhappy that Rod told reporters about the concert

The Kremlin was unhappy that Rod told reporters about the concertCredit: Rod Stephen

The concert took place on the anniversary of Vladimir Lenin's death

The concert took place on the anniversary of Vladimir Lenin’s deathCredit: Hulton Archive – Getty

Bizarrely, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov then issued a statement denying that Putin had even attended the concert.

“I don’t know who their audience consisted of, but Vladimir Putin was not one of them,” he wrote.

“He was working in his office that Thursday evening, meeting members of the Cabinet.”

Peskov added that he was “sorry to disappoint” the Abba tribute act, but “Mr Putin is more of a Beatles fan”.

As it turned out, Putin’s reasons for being coy about his appearance at the concert was less to do with Abba, and more to do with Russian history.

Rod explained: “January 21 is the anniversary of Vladimir Lenin’s death. That year marked 85 years since he’d died.

“It was very unseemly that the Russian president would be having a private party on this particular date. It was embarrassing for him.”

Rod claimed the Kremlin made him sign a form and fax it back to them promising that he wouldn’t speak to any media.

At the time, he agreed but now believes there is no reason not to talk about what happened, particularly in the wake of what he describes as “horrendous” recent events in Ukraine.

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Despite the row, Rod and the rest of Bjorn Again have since returned to Russia a number of times, playing private concerts for prominent figures, as well as general gigs.

He says he hasn’t received any further correspondence from the Kremlin, despite continuing to speak out about the gig.

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